I’ve always been confident in my role as a doctor. I have a knack for pattern recognition, a well developed 6th sense (after 25 years in practice) and a natural curiosity and empathy for people, all of which make me good at my job. As an educator and appraiser I seem to have good professional judgement and in my leadership role, I try to set the tone by taking on jobs that others don’t want to, and demonstrating by example the standards and behaviour I expect from my employees.
I’ve been much less confident in my instincts as a mother. From the earliest days with son 1 I’ve not been sure I’m particularly GOOD at being a mother, and I’ve had so much self doubt and insecurity that I’ve not always been able to follow my own instincts. Both my ex husband (with his drug abuse and erratic, impulsive nonsensical behaviour) and my exPartner (very strict Victorian, hypercritical and emotionally bullying) have overridden me many times, meaning that I have not always behaved as I believed to be best in respect of my children.
On Saturday night son 2 (he’s almost 16) went to a party at a school friends house. I spoke to him at about 7 pm, when he sounded fine and said he should be home by 10. At about 8.45pm I got a call from my ex husband saying son 2 had drunk too much , had been collected from the party and would stay with him that night.
Son2 skulked into the house at 9 am the following morning, he stumbled upstairs to where I was still in bed, fell down on the bed and burst into tears. After I had given him a cuddle, I asked him why he was crying. He was very ashamed of how drunk he had got, and very worried about what might have happened. I had a vivid memory of facing my mother’s tight lipped fury when I had done similar and felt instinctively I should play it differently. So I asked him for some details, very calmly and then he went to have a shower. After his shower he called the person whose party it was and filled in the gaps. We then took the dog for a walk. Son2 was still very upset and I encouraged him to look at what had happened in a realistic light. Yes he had got drunk (apparently the host’s mother had gone out, leaving 15-20 kids on their own, several people had brought alcohol and they were drinking vodka and Heineken (YUK) ) Yes he had vomited (in the bathroom thank goodness) BUT he had not insulted anyone, got into a fight and he had had the common sense to call someone when he realised he felt unwell.
We talked about why he had been drinking (social anxiety) and why he had felt the need to go along with the drinking games (peer pressure) we talked about how rubbish he felt that morning – both physically and emotionally. How embarrassed he felt that he’d had to get his father to collect him and how ashamed of himself. We talked about whether the ‘social anxiety relieving’ effects of alcohol outweighed the consequences? He felt they did not.
We talked about the way alcohol has an insidious effect, leads to blackouts and poisoning in excess. he told me that several of his friends don’t drink at all, and why that was. he knows that his father has very severe multiple addiction problems and that I no longer drink alcohol. We talked about how one can make plan before drinking, about having only one, or just beer etc, but that these good intentions seem to get eroded as soon as one has a drink.
As we walked, on the cold bright Winter morning, watching Lola the dog chasing sticks and snuffling through the undergrowth, we talked on about various things and son2, who is in a rather non-communicative phase, shared a lot of thoughts with me. He has always been the most sensitive of my children and one who reflects on things spontaneously, but I was pleased to hear the results of his musings about his recent past. They indicated to me a developing maturity and capacity to accept people’s differing opinions which was pleasing to hear. I tried to encourage him to look on the previous nights episode as a learning opportunity, by getting HIM to reflect that he felt dreadful the next day, by ensuring that I reassured him that he was not BAD – but had just drunk too much, that tbh most people have done at some time – I feel he gained confidence in me as a loving parent, setting boundaries but accepting him as an individual.
At the end of the walk he said he felt better, both physically and emotionally. I felt pleased that I had behaved as I felt was right – and that I had in a way been rewarded by a little glimpse in to his thoughts and feelings.
I’m gaining in confidence, very slowly, as a woman; as a person worthy of a good partner, and now I feel I gaining in confidence as a mother after that fantastic trip to see son 1 and now the opportunity to support son2 when he needed me. His father had found it funny to draw on his face whilst he was unconscious from alcohol intake – and I think he was rather disillusioned with this approach.
I’m not stupid enough to think he will never drink again, and I’m aware that he, like son 3 has an unfortunate set of genes when it comes to addiction, but I hope by lovingly accepting that he had been foolish, but pointing out that this did not make HIM a bad person or a failure or inevitably doomed to a lifetime of disaster, I have opened up the lines of communication just a little, and shown that I can be loving and compassionate and not judgemental, as my mother was to me.
Which leads me to a further thought. Its just possible that I will manage to have a better relationship with my children than my mother has with me. Its just possible that my very well developed reflective skills (from a lifetime of reflecting on my practice and unconscious drivers) will enable me to be a less judgemental parent, a less judgemental adult, able to support without criticising.
That’s quite a comforting thought.